The Vibram Open at Maple Hill Review – September 2-4, 2011

Disc golf is fun for me on many levels --- athletic competition, design and educational principals related to landscape architecture, the mental requirements it demands of you, similarities to my childhood love of golf and best yet…promotion. Golf is fascinating to me, but to many it’s boring. I feel bad that they think its boring to watch or incredibly frustrating to play, but does EVERYONE know what the sport of golf is, right? Pretty much, yes. Can the same be said about disc golf? “What, you mean Frisbee golf?” Sure, I guess.  It’s actually called disc golf though --- and you’ll like it. It never really struck me that I loved promotion, I just did it. I heard a band I loved and I’d go tell all my friends about it because it was so much fun and so good that I wouldn’t want anyone missing out on it. I didn’t want anyone to miss out on anything fun, simple as that. I went to more and more music as I promoted more and more bands. I’d get free tickets to shows, but it was never about that. It was me not wanting my friends to miss out on the fun. It was about promoting a band because that’s what they want to do it and I wanted to do my part in making sure that it was a reality. Promotion was always natural because there was always something fun going on. The deeper into the music scene I went, the more fun I found.

Now I’ve found my most recent, endless promotion: disc golf. How many people know about disc golf? A lot. How many are OBSESSED with it? A lot. How many don’t even know what disc golf is? More than both those a lots put together. Sad, isn’t it? Disc golf is a sport I will play until the day I die. I literally mean that with ever fiber on my being. The fastest growing demographic of disc golf players is seniors --- and they’re turning out in record numbers! Disc golf rocks! If you know me, I’m not a tattoo guy. I’m tall, skinny, have a beard and like disc golf, music and excel spreadsheets --- a tattoo on me would be awkward. I would get a disc golf related tattoo, though, and it would be amazing. Constant promotion! Haha, now that I read that I think promotion is the reason I’d get the tattoo, but it wouldn’t --- it would be because the sport is fun and I love everything about it. You should too.

My growing love of disc golf over the past 6 years was taken to another level when I spent multiple days at The Vibram Open at Maple Hill in Leicester, MA. This was the last National Tour Event on the 2011 Professional Disc Golf Association’s (PDGA) schedule and the majority of the world’s top pros were going to be in attendance --- all of this a little over an hour from my house in Amherst. I was going to be viewing my first PDGA tournament through the eyes of my new company, Explore Disc Golf. Explore Disc Golf is me using my Master’s in Landscape Architecture, and fusing it with my knack for promotion and my connections within the music industry over the last 9 or so years. If there is only one thing I took from my graduate work in Landscape Architecture, it would be DOCUMENT EVERYTHING --- and I did. I took pictures of everything from tee pads and baskets to porter pottie locations, vending and tee time sheets. What a wonderful weekend it was!

When I pulled in, the family vibe was very apparent. I was parked by the Tournament Director’s mother, and pointed in the direction of the clubhouse where I walked around to check out some of the discs before heading over to check out some of the vending. I was expecting at least half a dozen vendors, but this weekend there were only a couple, Ten Down Disc Golf from Maine and Bachnein Disc Golf from Vermont. Some of the vendors were also dotted throughout the course to provide hospitality to players, while trying to catch some tee shirt and disc sales as well. The only other set up I saw was at the first tee where a large tent was erected to attract patrons over to the tee. The tent and small trailer go from event to event promoting the sport of disc golf, but the first thing I wondered was, “why is this at a disc golf tournament and not at a music festival?” I get it --- it’s a disc golf tournament, but don’t the few hundred people in attendance already know about or play disc golf? Why not take this massive tent and portable baskets to a 25,000 music festival or a beach on a beautiful, yet calm day. Well that’s exactly what Explore Disc Golf is going to do!

After getting my bearings , I decided to go find the first Super Group of the day. I got a late start to my day, but found the group of Nate Doss, David Feldberg, Will Schusterick and Paul Ullibari on the 7th hole. I followed these guys until the 15th hole, where I would follow the other Super Group of the day, which included Nikko Locastro, Avery Jenkins and two others I can’t remember. I apologize for not knowing everyone’s name, but this was my first tournament and I don’t really know the players that well. The name thing was actually one of the first flaws I saw in the system. We are trying to promote this sport, but what about the common person who has no idea who the #1 player in the world is? At a Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA) Tour event, there are handouts that have a breakdown of each group. Each player has a color next to his name, and his caddy is wearing that color with his name on it. That makes it easy. Nikko Locastro (Blue) --- oh look at that guy in a blue bib that says Locastro handing that guy a disc; that must be Nikko Locastro. Done, problem solved. I’m not trying to be harsh; I’m just trying to help the sport. I was bummed when I had no idea who I was watching, but then again I was thrilled I could walk right up to someone and bump fists with them after they threw 600’ bomb over water and sat it next to the pin just like they envisioned it. Ridiculousness.

Unless you have seen professional disc golfers play, you have no idea what you’re missing out on. It took me less than 10 minutes to start laughing uncontrollably, and even tearing up a bit. That’s what I did when I saw Zach Deputy for the first time in 2007. The same thing happened when I saw Rubblebucket in 2007, as it did when I saw Australian-based sensations OKA in Nova Scotia in July of this summer. It’s all I know how to do when I see something I can’t believe. I just have to laugh and cry --- and take pictures.  The reason I get all weird is because I know I'm seeing the future right in front of me. I was formerly a Tour Manager for a nationally touring band, and went through college seeing music 3-5 times a week. I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs --- but when I see the FUTURE --- I lose it. Zach Deputy and Rubblebucket have one of the fastest growth rates of bands I’ve ever seen. OKA will destroy the U.S. music scene in less than 5 years. And disc golf? There is just so much goodness already in place, but still TONS of opportunity. I’m a nerdy, attention-to-detail guy and there is so much missing in the sport. These guys are INCREDIBLY talented, and once I really saw it in person, I almost couldn’t take it.

The one thing I really took from my time watching these players is the confidence they putt with. I remember watching David Feldberg putt on the island green of the 9th hole --- he had a downhill putt of about 25' with water less than 10' beyond the basket. He doesn’t see the water --- he sees individual chains. The guy strokes it and smiles as he walks back to his bag and onto the 10th hole. Unreal! They aren’t limping these putts in either. The disc is going UP as it hits the chains. I usually throw a pancake putt in there so it’s high enough to give myself a chance to float it in, but if I miss, it’s not wet. I really think anyone can throw the Big D. That’s just technique and torque, but putting is where the money is made and championships are won.

This year’s championship was won by Nate Doss. Nate had just picked up his third World Championship five weeks prior in Santa Cruz, CA before trekking across the United States to win the year’s final NT event. I watched this guy for two full rounds and he was solid as a rock. I think over the two days I watched, he had two bogies, maybe three. If you saw this course, that fact would rock your world. He avoids the high highs and low lows. He doesn’t get pissed when he messes up; he fixes it. He doesn’t celebrate when he makes birdies; he marches to the next tee. It was such a pleasure to watch him play because he was almost robotic. There’s something to be said about playing with no emotion and ice in your veins. Like I said previously; all this on the PDGA Tour in related back to the PGA Tour. Some of my favorite golfers are the most boring --- not calling Nate Doss’ playing boring, but it was methodical. I distinctly remember him kicking a small rock on the 10th hole on his final road, and after a massive 500’+ drive over water and between trees, his disc nestled up next to the basket on the 16th hole where he tapped in his birdie and gave a mini fist pump before marching on. You should have seen this drive on 16 --- a huge carry over water, skirting between trees as it crossed land and before carrying another 100’ or so up to the pin before it came to rest for a kick in birdie. And all he did was a mini fist pump? He just locked down the tourney! I would have jumped in the fucking pond in early celebration! Did I mention he almost aced 17?

Not knowing or ever speaking to Nate, he seems like a great face to promote the sport through. Avoid the high highs and low lows, one stroke at a time, every shot counts, bogeys are easier to get back than doubles --- all that stuff. Too many people get all caught up in the fact that they just made a double bogey and they lose their concentration. Then when they lose by one shot at the end of the round, it’s the end of the world. If they stayed focused after that double and didn’t compound it with another bogey on the next hole, they would be tied at the end of the round and going into a playoff instead of losing by one. Sorry to break off on a weird scenario there, but it’s true to the game, and true to how Nate plays. The three other players that played together in the Super Group on day one were some of my favorites as well. As enjoyable as following around the lead card on the last day was, day one really stole the show for me. I really enjoyed watching were Ullibari, Feldberg and Schusterick as much as I enjoyed Doss. The thing I remember most about watching these guys --- Schusterick in particular --- is the fact that they don’t step when they throw their mid range shots. They anchor their front foot into the ground and just uncoil on it. Uphill shots of 300’ with an anchored foot are no problem for these guys, as you could imagine.

To make this sport and tournament even cooler, there were dozens of other activities planned to round out this high profile event. There were putting competitions, accuracy challenges, long distance drives, speed contests, match play challenges, ultimate showcases, pie eating contests and more. These guys are very driven and very competitive, but they do enjoy the laid back atmosphere that the sport is based around. It seems that the disc golf community is very close and very supportive. I wish I could have spent more time at The Vibram Open, but I enjoyed every minute I had. I can only wait for more tournaments and more exposure for the sport. My advice to readers is the next time you think or hear about disc golf, look up a course with a 5k loop or playground nearby. Tons of information can be found out about particular disc golf courses on on www.discgolfcoursereview.com. When you do finally find that perfect course --- go over to the 5k loop and take a walk or even branch off on some holes and use the fairway as a hiking trail. Maybe you’ll find hikers, dog walkers or off road BMX bikers. See how disc golf fits into the landscape with almost no visual impact whatsoever and think about how well it connects on-site features. Disc golf can be enjoyed on so many levels --- from the spectator to the promoter to the player. Go out and give it a try, I promise you will have just found a recreational opportunity that you will enjoy for the rest of your life.

The Vibram Open Course Preview – Maple Hill DGC in Leicester, MA

The other day I had the opportunity to play Maple Hill Disc Golf Course in Leicester, MA --- it was the closest thing to playing on a major tournament course I’ve ever experienced. Playing golf since I was 6 years old, I have been brought up watching the sport’s majors intently. I used to dream of what it was like to play on the courses --- fully manicured, greens rolling 14 on the stimpmeter, grand stands erected, rough 4” thick and tournament officials walking about. What would it take to get me to be able to play those courses only days after the event? Probably nothing --- no chance. Now I’m 27 and have had a new passion for 6 or so years now --- disc golf. So what would it take to play in such a setting --- a major event on the Professional Disc Golf Association tour schedule?  Apparently, simply driving to the course, paying my $5 fee and strapping up my shoes would suffice. Cool!

Wrapping up our 3-week Northeast tour with Zach Deputy, we enjoyed a couple days off in Massachusetts before having to head down to Fredericksburg, VA to pick up tour at The Otter House and follow up on successful summer music festival appearances at All Good Music Festival in Masontown, WV and Camp Barefoot in Bartow, WV. Our two days off proved to be very enjoyable, as I was finally able to play Maple Hill which has been a course I’ve had on my to-play list for a while now. Maple Hill will play host to The Vibram Open in a couple days, from September 1-4 to be exact. The Vibram Open is the 8th and final National Tour event on the Professional Disc Golf Association tour schedule.  All the top disc golfers in the world will be there, and I’ll be ready to document every little sliver of information.

I’m a landscape architect professional and disc golf enthusiast. I have spent many hours documenting proposed courses all over the United States, but am yet to actually attend a disc golf event. I’ll be at The Vibram Open on Thursday, as well as the United States Disc Golf Championships at Winthrop Gold in Rock Hill, SC in early October. To be able to see the operation of the tournament directors, video crew, score keepers, hospitality staff, maintenance crew and more is something I will watch very closely. My life as Tour Manager for a nationally tour banding (and Innova-sponsored celebrity ambassador) has afforded me the opportunity to see massive production from behind the scenes. I am able to see the overall flow of it all, and get down to the nitty gritty and see the finest of details from paperwork in the production office to candy in the dressing rooms. Disc golf is an emerging sport --- I still can’t believe how unknown it is to many --- and I’m unbelievably thrilled to be able to see a National Tour event less than an hour from my home.

When we pulled up to the parking lot, I popped out excitedly with camera in tow --- snapping pictures of everything I saw! Taking pictures of the woodchips, signage, skid steers, pro shop, practice putting area, old signage from last year’s Vibram Open, and the extensive Christmas tree farm. I personally have always wanted a Christmas tree farm, so to see this course integrated so beautifully within one was a nice surprise. Douglas Firs acts as a whole other level of hazards in disc golf, too. Have you ever thrown a disc (or hit a golf ball) through a tree and heard someone say, “Trees are 90% air”? Ok, now let’s think about a Christmas tree. On the 11th hole, I had a routine second shot into the pin for what I thought was a solid par. I let down my guard for a minute and my Roc clipped the edge of the Douglas Fir, batting it down to the ground without a second thought. There is no way to penetrate a disc through one of these trees, so to dot them around your course (or to put a course in the middle of a Christmas tree farm) is highly intelligent.

The 1st and 2nd holes are located within the Christmas tree portion of the property as well, but that should be the last of anyone’s worry. Standing on the first tee, disc golfers face one of the most difficult shots on the course right out of the gate. With no practice throws and only minimal stretching, I took my Umphrey’s McGee Valkyrie out of my bag in hopes that I wouldn’t plunk it in the drink. Maybe this was my demise --- thinking “Don’t put it in the water” instead of “Put it next to the pin.” I put a good huck on the disc, but not enough as it landed in the water about 3 feet short of the stone retaining wall. I hustled down to the basket, took of my sneakers and anything valuable off and jumped in to get my precious disc. I love this thing more than a lot of things in my life, and there was no way I was losing it! The next couple holes were routine pars, but things got exciting once we got back to the water again. Holes 4-9 were an absolute blast, as water was in play most of the time. I really enjoyed this stretch cause a lot of the shots were all about positioning --- leaving yourself on the correct side of the fairway, or putting your shot in a location that takes the water out of play, but still leaves you an uphill putt for par. The only shot on this stretch of holes that is all about muscle and less about discipline is the drive on the 8th hole. With a 275 foot carry all over water, you can’t miss your drive left OR right. Short and left is the large pond, while to the right side of the pathway that takes you to the hole is more water! I tried to peel a left to right turning Sidewinder into this hole, but I didn’t get enough on it and left it about 5 feet short and wet. After plunking two discs in the water through 8 holes, I turned my game around and finished up quite nicely.

Hole 10 isn’t the prettiest of holes, but it does have a signature element to it --- a castle wall. The wooden retaining wall perches the basket well above grade, giving disc golfers even more of a challenge to this Douglas Fir-lined, uphill start to the back nine. The tee shot is pretty straight forward, while the second shot demands a pin high right approach, leaving a level putt for par. If you end up short on your second shot, par putts will be to a basket that is located 10 feet above grade --- very tricky par from there! The back nine is significantly longer than the front, but much more open for the most part. There were a couple wooded holes that really caught my attention, but were much more straight forward than their wooded counterparts on the front nine. I strung together a lot of pars on the back nine and escaped it only +2, which was a thrill for me after a +6 front nine. Ugh.

I was happy to keep it under +10 on my first attempt at this course, but was very disappointed with my play on the tight wooded holes, as those are usually my specialty. This wasn’t my best round, but it was more of a course introduction for me so I’ll be prepared for The Vibram Open, which starts in a couple days. I have seen the gold ropes laid out, making the course THAT much tougher for the world’s best. I remember standing on several holes, looking at the out of bands surrounding us, and just laughing at the gold rope. I’m a halfway decent player, but this blew my mind! I can’t wait for the tourney to start and see these guys BOMBING discs like I’ve never seen before. I’ve scouted out some slot holes that I’ll probably stake out just to see these guys peel it in, landing it within feet of the basket. The Golf Course was fun to see, but very humbling to say the least. Seeing the course in tournament conditions, the pin locations, the out of bounds, the tee signage, and the overall course layout were a treat. The world’s best are about to descend on Central Massachusetts and I hope that attendance for the tournament exceeds expectations. There is no reason for every avid disc golfer within a 4 hour drive not to be here. We are talking about seeing the world’s best at one of the finest, most demanding layouts in New England! For those who don’t come, look for a follow up to the tournament, chalk full of pictures, video and extensive review.